The Nut Mill

(By Jason) 
An important and enjoyable part of learning language is learning culture.  This includes taking periodic field trips with our school to see various aspects of French culture while also affording us an opportunity to practice our French with "real French people."  So last week we took a trip to a small mill in the hills nearby which makes flour, paste, and oil out of walnuts and hazelnuts.  Pictured above is part of our class waiting outside the "Moulin."

 The 144 year-old moulin was originally powered by the waterwheel pictured here.  Now days, they have an electric motor as a back-up for when there is not enough water flow.  The intricate set up of gears and such was incredible.
 The process begins by dumping a load of locally picked walnuts or hazelnuts into the stone surface after which a heavy mill stone rolls over the nuts for 15-30 minutes.

 The paste that is created can either be eaten as is, or it can be compressed in a hydraulic press under 200 tons of pressure!  Compressing it creates 2 products - walnut oil and a dry brick of the residual fiber which can be used as a flour additive (4 of these bricks are leaning on the wall below).

 We enjoyed to opportunity to taste both the walnut paste and oil, such that the following day, many of the kids collected walnuts from a walnut tree at our school and proceeded to replicate the process as best they could.  Their walnut butter ended up tasting pretty good in a walnut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.  I wonder how well walnut trees grow in Burundi...


Language Acquisition Project

One of the best parts about attending the PILAT course in Colorado last spring/summer, we all agree, was the 3 ring binder full of language learning ideas.  These will be especially useful in more one-on-one learning, like we anticipate in Burundi, or when we meet with our language helpers here in France.  Ideas include a "language route" of meeting the same people every day, memorized monologue, numbers "flashcards" that you get people to read to you so numbers become ingrained, and something the PILAT folks call "LAPs".  LAP stands for Language Acquisition Project.  There are about 40 of them in our binders, and of course you can make up your own as well.  We tried them out in Colorado.  For example, we each made a "gameboard" of neighborhood locations:  the market, church, school, home, etc.  Then we made game pieces that resembled bicycle, boat, car, etc.  We added in "I", "you", "he" and "they", and eventually added symbols for today, yesterday, and tomorrow.  First, our language helper would name off the individual item/location/word.  Then we would start saying the words.  Eventually, we were moving pieces around the board...you can imagine the buildup.  It's pretty cool, actually.  You start with "le velo" (bicycle) and l'eglise (church) and eventually are saying things like "I rode my bicycle to church yesterday."  A fun way to learn verbs and tenses and word interactions.

Lest you think this post is a bit dry, let me (Rachel) tell you my own brilliant idea for a LAP.  I am an OB-GYN.  The vocabulary I need to know the most, in my opinion, is all about prenatal care, birth, delivery, etc.  The word for "push" goes a long way in my business. :)  So what better way to learn about the French obstetrical vocabulary than to get pregnant and deliver my baby while in France?  That's right, folks, McCropder #17 will be born on French soil hopefully by early April.  I have stacks of pregnancy pamphlets and even an online French TV show called "Baby Boom" to watch.  So far, I know the word for pregnant (Je suis enceinte), pregnancy (grossesse, which is quite flattering), and delivery (accouchment, which is fun to say).  My midwife asked me last week, "vous le sentez bouger?" which has nothing to do with my recent cold, but rather, "Are you feeling the baby move?"  Language learning is abounding. :)

Can't wait to progress in language acquisition and gross-ness.  I mean, grossesse.


Making A Million Mistakes

(from Eric)

During the PILAT course we took this past year in Colorado (Program in Language Acquisition Techniques), we all came away with a good catch phrase:

"You have to make a million mistakes to learn a language."  And the implication is: "So get out there and start making them."

An alternative:  "You have to murder the language before you can master the language."

And it's true.  And embarrassing.  And funny all at the same time.  In other words, it looks just like the quiet, steady, powerful grace of God at work in us everyday in our ordinary lives.  

The aforementioned mistakes come in innumerable forms, but I have noticed a few broad categories which I will attempt to describe for you here.

1.  The "Not-the-right-foreign-language" mistake.  In America, this is when you thank your Chinese waitress with "Gracias" because her accent is a bit strong.

The first week we were here, our family ventures on an inter-city bus trip to a nearby town.  One buys these tickets from the driver.  I needed two tickets.  All I had to do was say my destination, the word "deux", and look at the little cashier machine for the price.  Well, I got the destination right, and then said something like "toi" (which is not "2" in any language that I know of).  We got past it, and when the transaction was complete, I gave him a confident and courteous "sawa".  Which is, of course, Swahili.  I realized my mistake, wanted to explain myself, realized that would make it worse, and walked away with my head down.

And of course, now it's funny.

2.  The "Delay-to-the-point-of-saying-nothing" mistake.

Another fellow student here described this to a tee.  He called it the "10-second delay".  You just arrived.  You don't know how to say anything in French, but you did learn "je ne comprends pas". (I don't understand.)  An innocent old lady walks up to you on the street, and utters a very kind unintelligible something to you.  Two seconds later, you realize that you have no idea what she said.  At five seconds, you are still open-mouthed and mute, and she is wondering if you know how to speak any language at all.  At eight seconds, you haven't changed, she has concluded you have "locked-in" syndrome from your basilar arterial infarction and walks away.  At ten seconds, you remember your magic phrase but realize you are too late, and feebly call after her, "Je ne comprends pas..."

3.  The "Language-misadventure-turned-serious-faux-pas".  These mistakes count for more than 1 on your journey to a million.

I have yet to score one of these on my own, but I take comfort in knowing that it is inevitable.  One of our SPLICE instructors (who lived in France) famously asked a woman if he could speak to her fesse a fesse (bottom to bottom) instead of face a face.  I can picture myself messing up that vowel.  

Alyssa once was talking to a mom in Kenya about her child not eating today, because of a surgery that was planned.  Her interns graciously told her later that she had said (in Swahili):  "Mama, don't eat your child today.  You will eat your child tomorrow."  Thus, I am making a point to discover the different French words for "feed" and "eat", but I guess that just means it will be something else that gets me.

Couldn't we just learn this as a download, like in The Matrix?  Can't we skip the process?  No, we can't, and thus we trust in some purpose behind it.  And as I see my heart and my ego bump along the crowded street, getting jarred here and catapulted there, I catch a glimpse of what the process is for.


A Slice of Burundian Life

Thanks to the Chaffins for sending us this link.  This is a story of a grandmother and grandson who were Burundian refugees during the war and were resettled in Chattanooga, TN, in 2007.  It's a bit long, but it paints well the pictures of their lives and some of their issues.  The first video is a nice slide show of rural Burundian life.  I was unaware of the henna tattoos, so that's fun.  All in all, it's a good reminder for Americans with regards to caring for the immigrants who are all around you, though often invisible.

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.  I am the LORD your God.  - Leviticus 19:34


Why Guys Need Guys

by Carlan Wendler

Have you ever stayed up late and gotten up early? Like, later than you wanted and earlier than you thought healthy? Maybe you were going on a big journey and didn't get the same head-start on packing that you scheduled for departing. Maybe your kids were too tired to go to sleep and too excited to stay asleep. Or maybe you were up until the wee hours of the morning on a Skype date with a special someone in Kenya the night before the inaugural McCropder Men's Morning Meeting at 7:30 AM at your apartment. In any case, God saves some special lessons for people who are tired and He never wastes anything.

We're kind of a motley crew, scruffy, unshorn, bleary-eyed and some a little sick. We're all tired/exhausted/frustrated/defeated/broken in different ways, but when we start to share, something changes. Maybe it's the coffee, maybe it's the tea, but it smells like the Holy Spirit stirring us up to encourage and edify each other. Some of what we share is sacred, some is silly, but it is all good. And I find, in living and learning in this community again, that I needed it again, more than I remembered.

I've got blind-spots (thank God for John), I've got unseen stress (praise Him for Eric), I've got stuff growing inside me that doesn't belong (bless Him for Jason). I can go a long ways down a trail of thinking, acting, or being before something one of these guys says will awaken me with a start. Today that came in the form of a quote from Thornton Wilder (from the play, The Angel That Troubled The Waters): "In love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve."

It strikes me again what Christ did for us - suffering 33 years on what had to seem a horrifically scarred planet capped off by an excruciation, meted out by those He came to save. And while His work required that He suffer alone, He has placed us in His Body and given us His Spirit so that we should never walk alone. When He changed our name He also touched our hip. The limp reminds us of our weakness, the cane of our need. I'm grateful to need, and sometimes be, the support of these guys.

And as I'm neither as clever or as cute as some of the other posters, maybe I can be the challenging one. So, especially to the gentlemen readers, I encourage you to write that note or make that call to a guy who has supported you in the past. It might just be the support he needed today.


A Little Taste of Home

by Jessica Cropsey

Yes, I'm embarrassed to admit that even though I live in the land of great dairy, cheese, and bread, I stooped to taking my family to McDonald's for lunch.  During our year back in the States, our children came to love McDonald's.  It become our go-to place to eat while traveling on the road since I knew my kids would actually eat the food.  (Plus, the new Happy Meal toy kept them entertained for quite a while in the car!)

The kids were pretty excited when I broke the news to them about our adventure for the day.  As you can see from the video below, Elise doesn't have very much confidence in our French skills yet.  (Can you also tell that someone has had the traumatic experience of not being able to play in the PlayPlace because she didn't have socks?)

Since we don't have a car, it took a little more effort to actually get there.  Once we acquired some bus tickets (still owe you 3€, Eric!) and found our target destination on the map, we headed out.

Upon arrival, we were shocked at the number of people there.  It was jam-packed!  We actually had to wait for somebody to leave to find a seat.  A few observations from our visit to the Golden Arches...
  • High-tech!  You can place your order on 1 of 6 different computer kiosks and stand in line to pick up your order.  We hit quite a few McDonald's last year in the U.S. and this was new to me.  
  • Their drinks are significantly smaller than the drinks that come with your meals in the U.S. and I'm pretty sure you don't get free refills.  
  • One item on the menu that is probably unique to McDonald's France:  the McBaguette
  • You can order beer with your Big Mac! 
  • Chicken nuggets are definitely crispier than the ones in the U.S.
  • A sweet young lady (smartly dressed in her McDonald's uniform) came around offering additional little gifts for the kids in the restaurant.  I saw another lady going around refilling hot beverages for people.  Wow!  Was this really a fast-food establishment?  
All in all, it was a fun little outing and something familiar for the kids to enjoy.  Little Sammy loved his first chicken nugget and downed an impressive amount of fries.    

The Happy Meal boxes have since been transformed into a pony stable and car garage.  They've received more attention than the toy itself.  

We love you, McD's!


Looking behind, Looking ahead

(From Alyssa)

In light of Eric's previous blog post, one recent reminder that encouraged us about the journey God has us on through Kenya, France, and Burundi was a webinar through the Christian Medical and Dental Associations. Through the wonders of modern technology (and especially through God miraculously fixing some significant technical glitches), the six McCropder doctors spoke to medical students and others across the U.S. about our story. Several of us had shared together at a medical missions conference in Asheville, NC last year, but we had never all six presented together, and it was encouraging to be reminded of the faithfulness of God again in bringing us together. Especially during these days of grammar and vocabulary learning, it was a blessing to remember the big picture of what God is doing in the world and how He has been shaping and growing us through our time in Kenya, the U.S., and now France in preparation for what's ahead in Burundi. We pray the medical students were encouraged to continue seeking God's direction as they pursue this challenging but joy-filled path of medical missions.

And the advantage to presenting from France with only audio feed: no need to dress up!
McCropder docs presenting live
If you'd like to hear our presentation, click here to download it from the CMDA website (the Sept 16, 2012 entry - our intro begins at approximately minute 7 after the announcements and after technical difficulties, John starts talking at about minute 15:30).


Perspective in the Daily Grind

(from Eric)

What did I do yesterday?  I worked on learning French.  What am I doing today?  I'm catching up on my French (and writing a blog to tell you about it, obviously).  I won't belabor the point by describing for you what's on the block for tomorrow.  I'm sure you see the pattern.

There are moments, particularly when we hear about the current doctor strike in Kenya, or try to work on projects in advance for Burundi, that I think, "What am I doing?  I'm a doctor.  What am I doing working on a homework assignment by asking a complete stranger where they are going on their next vacation?"  (Which incidentally, John did the same assignment, struck up a friendship, and was invited to borrow the stranger's mother-in-law's camping car on their next trip to Brittany.)

Well, there are several therapeutic options for the malady in which I can find myself.  One is to remember that this year is not simply a means to an end.  There is a book title that goes something like "Language Learning is Relationship is Ministry."  And I think that's true.  And while we learn French, friendships are made.  We grow in community and vision.  The local church here has repeatedly told us that the presence of language-learning missionaries has been a boon to the spiritual life of their community.

But for the sake of this post, let's say it is just a means to an end.  Because, what an end!  It boggles my mind to consider it.  Years of caring for the sick and poor in Burundi, all done in French (and Kirundi).  Years of clinical teaching of generations of medical students and residents, all in French.  Conversations about drip rates, antibiotic choices, when to operate, how to improve the plumbing, poverty and justice, God's calling in young lives, love, redemption, grace... all in French.

Some very wise friends once told us that language is the single-most important factor in opening up relationships between missionaries and the community they are serving.  Indeed, language is not just about the "stuff" being communicated, but about the communication itself, which is the very fabric of a friendship.

Is it an investment, then?  In many ways, it is exactly that, and one that takes a decent amount of long-term thinking.  But as investments go, the payoff is tremendous.